Recently there were two deaths inside a highly popular and highly advanced cave system in Florida — the Eagle’s Nest in Hernando County. A father and his son were testing new equipment there. In the excitement of the holidays they decided to take the new scuba equipment they had received for Christmas on a dive in Eagle’s Nest. This wasn’t just a test dive in the open water portion of the basin. The dive computers recovered from the father and son indicate they had gone to a depth of 233 feet, a zone well inside the cave and far outside of regular recreational and standard cave-diving depths. Research has revealed that neither diver was cave trained or certified. The son, who was 15, allegedly did not hold any scuba certification at all.
The National Association of Cave Divers’ (NACD) training and diving standards allow for a 16-year-old to complete the introductory training courses, Cavern and Intro Cave Diving, with parental consent. Usually this is only done when one of the parents is already a trained and certified cave diver. Minimum age for more advanced training courses, Apprentice and Cave Diver, is 18, with no exceptions. Even if the child was 16, Eagle’s Nest is not a cavern-level or intro-cave level dive. Eagle’s Nest is a highly advanced cave dive that requires decompression procedures using multiple breathing gases, including Trimix. This dive location is reserved for only the most experienced of cave divers. The 15-year-old child should never have been inside this, or any other cave.
We are at a point in time where cave diving guidelines, procedures and training are well developed. The NACD has an extensive list of highly trained instructors and safety advisers throughout Florida and the world who train and certify divers each year in safe practices. This sport has become highly popular over the past two decades and is a major attraction in Florida. Thousands of safe cave dives are done each year in Florida alone. The fatalities on Christmas Day were due to a pure lack of and total disregard for proper training.
We encourage those who want to visit our beautiful cave systems to seek out professional training from a qualified cave-diving instructor before entering any cavern or cave system. Training is not expensive and will most likely save someone’s life. NACD-certified cave instructors are happy to educate others about the wonders, challenges, dangers and rewards of cave diving. Entering a cave is not a right, it is a privilege, and not everyone gets to experience that privilege.
For information on cave diving visit: www.safecavediving.com.
The writer is international training director for the National Association for Cave Diving, which is headquartered in Gainesville.